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Invitational Leadership

An internet library proposes over 15 million articles linked to Invitational Leadership (IL). Clearly, this topic is not new, unless it has become extremely popular over the last few years. IL-related literature abounds in relation to companies. But recent developments on this topic are mostly related to school systems in the U. S. Test-based methodologies of evaluating work quality of both students and lecturers seem to have had adverse effects on the reputation of the schools themselves.

Over time, competition-based recruitment and rigid evaluation techniques have estranged many school authorities from their primary customers, the students, and even from their traditional allies, the teachers. Perhaps a versatile economy is now forcing all parties to realize that being the best is but a short-lived dream, no matter how hard one tries. In the U. S. , every body still remembers the terrible ordeal of young investment bankers during the late nineties: all were bright, but all too many.

When rougher times came, the industry sacked them massively instead of letting them go progressively, almost making believe that these once hard-workers had suddenly become a waste of time and money. They lost their friends overnight, their houses and their dignity. The boldness that had been so highly valued yesterday was suddenly trampled like a rose by an angry lover, freezing happy yuppies in disbelief and disillusion, many of them in the process of building a family.

Leaders could really do what they wanted after all: it was no longer a matter of intelligence, neither of competences. Business was business. But doesn’t society develop a collective memory of traumatising events, especially when people who once were competitors incidentally end up within the same camp, that of the unforeseen victims? Surely, they will not let the system recycle them without a fight…Adverse management events causing bad publicity to traditional bureaucracies can only push forward the call for a more responsible and ethical leadership.

Of course, the fact of witnessing the fall of the brightest has a major disadvantage on the short term: inside the pool of the unemployed, competition is even fiercer. But it may carry a new hope on the long term: that tomorrow’s leaders, among which, some of these “bright victims”, will be wiser and less self-sufficient than their former bosses because “things” happened to them too. And also, as tomorrow’s fellow-workers the former yuppies will become more compassionate and more cooperative. And yet, invitational leadership was not born in the nineties.

It is present in the management literature at least as far back as 1978, when it was already associated to positive outcomes by Purkey. Maybe it is receiving much attention today because the school system is enduring tougher times after having espoused certain managerial techniques from the business world, perhaps too precipitously. These techniques, which mainly concern the selection of new recruits, the motivation of employees and the evaluation of performance, were adopted by the school leadership.

The problems they caused are now seen as the consequences of wrong decisions taken by unilateral thinkers, whom people are beginning to shun. They want leaders who understand them better and invite them into the game just as they are, without trying to impress or to manipulate them. A rare opportunity, so it seems. Could it be realized faster overseas? By holding participative consultations involving the French population in the setting up of her political project, the French presidential candidate Segolene Royal has adopted a leadership style that seems to lean on IL principles.

But will it earn her the French presidential seat? And if it does, will she be able or willing to keep the same leadership style? If it does not, will it be associated with a weak strategic positioning? Invitational leadership may be the answer to the need of the people to be listened to, but it could also represent just another way for established leaders to make marginal popularity gains before finally retiring. So, how to succeed? 2. Definitions And what does “invitational leadership” mean eaxctly?

Invitational leadership is a people management approach which consists of – as conveyed by the term invitational – explicitly but not coercively communicating positively within a team, in order to obtain efficient collaboration and effective results from collaborators, while leaving them latitude to reach the defined objectives based on their own efforts and competences. Approaching subordinates this way, IL promises, will lead to empowerment and individual growth at the workplace or at school.

Although it might sound as the obvious way to go to some leaders such as at Deborah Wahl from the International Paralegal Management Association and a well known path to many others in alternative organizations, it is a far reaching concept that has not yet shown its full potential. And some educational circles are envisaging it seriously for the first time. At Kennesaw State University, Dr. Betty Siegel was a trendsetter in relation to the application of this approach. Before evoking the concept of invitational leadership further, let us check out what leadership means.

The Oxford Thesaurus of English dictionary associates it with the following words: “directorship, direction, governorship, governance, administration, jurisdiction, captaincy, superintendency, control, ascendancy, rule, command, power, mastery, domination, dominion, premiership, sovereignty”. We see that about 80% of these terms are related to power. The same dictionary provides the following example of use: “we need firm and committed leadership” and adds the following list to the previous one: “guidance, direction, authority, control, management, superintendence, supervision; organization, government, orchestration, initiative, influence”.

Here, the word “guidance” is presented as the core synonym for the word “leadership”. In this second list presenting the second sense of the word, we see that leadership is directly associated with power only 40% of the time. So, this concept seems to be evolving toward a lesser “domineering” meaning while increasingly favouring the idea of “fruitful interacting”. 3. Other famous leadership theories Other leadership theories, such as Situational Leadership and Leadership by Example met substantial acclaim in the mainstream business world in the recent past.

It is worth trying to find out whether they are somehow related to the invitational leadership approach. Does invitational leadership point out a paradigm shift or does it rather confirm an older trend that started earlier than the nineties? This trend could thus be bringing to the forefront an alternative model of leadership that is based on mutual trust between the leader and the followers, and encouragement rather than reproach.

Situational leadership, which was advanced by Hersey and Blanchard almost simultaneously with invitational leadership by Combs, Avila and Purkey, focused on analyzing the competences and the motivation level of collaborators to get things done, and no longer on the leader’s own priorities and preferences. The new leaders had to be flexible. The leadership-by-example concept followed the footsteps of the rising public pressure (through the media) for better business ethics that has been influencing the corporate world since the mid nineties. The new leaders had to be competent.

In other words, they had to be able to “do it” themselves and from the front line. Both approaches have one major point in common: they put the responsibility to perform on the leader’s shoulder. And after two decades of a “leadership watch” attitude, we are now witnessing the return of the concept of “invitational leadership” and shared responsibilities. Is it a victory of democratic principles, a sign of further advancement of civilization, or an empty shell that will help established leaders complete their term before new ones take up the baton?

To answer this question, it is necessary to examine the overall environment in which invitational leadership is being pulled out of the archives. 4. Leadership styles When reading the abundant and sometimes confusing literature on IL, a nagging question repeatedly comes to mind. Is IL a style or an approach? IL is generally presented as the adequate response to a real need for a more adequate leadership stemming from the current changes in workplace behaviour and public opinion. And its proper application must involve all the processes that can be considered part of the leadership function.

These processes include: sharing the vision, planning, identifying the risks, solving problems, and evaluating the results. Considering that invitational leadership implies a different way of tackling all five processes, one can safely say that it is more than a style. Invitational leadership is an approach that can be learned, whereas leadership styles tend to be part of a leader’s inherent personality traits. Thus to be successfully invitational, a leader must adapt his/her personal leadership style to the invitational approach.

Three main styles of leadership are usually present in the caricatures of leaders: – charismatic – laissez-faire – authoritarian None of them can claim to be invitational if the leader shows no respect for the team, disregards minority groups, applies double standards, or promotes own interests first. This kind of behaviour has proven to be an impediment to personal development, besides being counterproductive for the organization as a whole. True, IL is better served by a participative leadership style, which is not a natural personality trait.

But it is nonetheless legitimate to wonder why invitational leadership was not called upon earlier, especially considering that it has been on the shelves for at least three decades. 5. Historical obstacles to IL Several factors may have contributed to the limited interest in IL in the past. Participative style is not natural: it must be learned. First, invitational leadership implies that the leader is willing to adopt a participative leadership style. A charismatic leaders for example may have to downplay their popularity so as to free the team members from a sometimes overwhelming presence.

Jokes and personal anecdotes should not occupy the time that must normally be devoted to the tackling of real issues. On the other hand, “laissez-faire” leaders should seek to understand the negative effects their lack of guidance can have on the team. They should understand that leadership implies involvement, while identifying ways of providing an effective service to the team members. Laissez-faire reflects a lack of participation of the leader in his leadership role, which will end up discouraging most members of the team, especially those who really need guidance.

The danger of this leadership style is irrecoverable chaos, which may lead to the premature replacement of the leader. An equally serious danger looms at the authoritarian leaders and their teams. In case of the leader’s absence nothing gets done because people are not empowered. They are used to micro control practices which are in fact counterproductive. Moreover the smartest players tend to rapidly distance themselves from the main goal for self-protection. But who can change the leaders better than the leaders themselves?

To evolve from a caricature-like leadership style toward the learned, participatory leadership, leaders must be willing to learn continuously. Learning for self-improvement is in fact the sixth leadership process. Only then can they hope to practice invitational leadership. In other words, leading by example is a start, but giving the wrong example will cause a premature end. In fact, the unexpected fall of some organizations – which society has witnessed with amazed disbelief – be it because of crudely lacking ethics (e. g. Enron), global competition (e. g. the airline industry), or increasing complexity of systems (e.

g. the CIA), has got many leaders rushing to get help from counsellors who best know these systems. They are now also realizing that, very often, empowering their own team members will bring them better results, faster, and at a lower cost. Moreover they are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that distributed leadership through consultations leaves less room for criticism from fellow associates or possible challengers. In fact, participative leadership permits a necessary dialogue and generates a precious source of information which the invitational leader can tap into to provide proper guidance.

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